visalam looked great online and promised a lot. we had done our research and it looked like the most realistic and natural heritage hotel at chettinad. it was a home converted into a hotel… but still, i was a little apprehensive when we left from ooty on our long trek across tamilnadu towards karaikudi (our long trek is a looong story for another day)…
i reached karaikudi in the wee hours of the morning, had a filter kaapi (yes, by the road & for just Rs 10) and then caught an old ambassador, driven by an rickety 65+ year old ‘thatha’ (or grandfather). he was bent upon cruising down the roads at top speed, and almost bumped into an old paati (grandmother) ambling across the highway!!!! phew… but i live to tell this tale, so alls well.
i reached visalam,in kanadukathan, one of the 77 remaining villages of the chettinad area of tamilnadu. if the pictures looked awesome, then the actual house took my breath away. i got off from the car under a large porch, it looked just like the porches of those rich multimillionaires in old indian movies, but this was real and i was there…
the entire place reeked of beauty, right from the tall, teak entrance and the large thick door, on either side, there were large, plain benches, comforting in their large and amiable width. i walked up the aged old-world mosaic steps, reached a huge doorway and lifted my foot and stepped in, without stepping on the doorway. (one does not step on the doorway in india, but again that’s another story)…
as you step inside the main door, a dark coolness envelopes you, it is peaceful and quiet, but it took me a couple of minutes to see where i was… in the main, rectangular room of the house… after the formalities were done, key in hand, i stepped out into the courtyard. with dark, teak pillars along the verandah, light green plants in the central part and filtered light bathing all of us, it made a perfect picture.
this is an actual house which has been converted into a hotel. so the large dining room that ran along one side of the house has been converted into a couple of rooms… the new additions of the bathrooms are completely in keeping with the decor and look of the house, nothing feels out-of-place…
every person we came across was extremely friendly and helpful. never have i come across a set of people so eager to help and eager to make things comfortable for another. given that they are mostly locals from this village and neighbouring villages, they have many stories to tell… if you choose the ask them… the manager of the property. mr. ramanathan chettiar was extremely kind, had answers to my million questions about chettinad, and always with a smile. and he even invited us to visit his home in the village!
i would love to visit again, but was rather shocked with the rate during peak season. an off-season visit makes so much more sense as the rates are 1/3rd then!
on the visalam site is says “forgotten mansions and ancient dust”… go catch some for yourself…
the rooms are large, spacious and airy. with the traditional red athangudi tiles (visit a tile shop at the nearby village of athangudi), the bathrooms are so large they might be the size of my house in mumbai… high cots, vintage furniture old cane chairs, tastefully done lighting.
we preferred the rooms on the first floor, so ask and they might show you all the rooms… we chose which one we wanted to have!
the restaurant where they serve dinner adds to the quaint and charming old world experience. it is on a terrace and what surrounds you is the rooftops of the other houses in the village, and immense silence with the continuous whirring of the fans and the occasional train that goes by in the distance.
the food was lovely. though a bit low on the spices, maybe given that they mostly have foreigners and not locals. my new favourite soup is something that i tasted here, and one request for the recipe and i had the print out in my hand.
they have a swimming pool, which is quite well-down.
there are board games laid out in the verandah near the pool, with books an old radio and other charming antique pieces to keep you company
just behind the lanes with all the heritage chettiar houses… so easy to walk around the village and just immerse oneself in that atmosphere… just in front of the bus stop, so convenient to hop into a bus to take you to the other villages around (remember there are 76 such villages, and kanadukathan is just one!)
things to do:
there is a wide range of activities that one can do around this area…
1. take a cycle ride around the village with a tour by a local. arranged by the hotel
2. visit the kanadukathan palace that is a couple of roads away from the hotel. it used to be open to the public but was shut when i visited… this could have changed when you visit, and hope it has!
3. go to the weaving shop and buy some beautiful chettinad saris from the artisans themselves
4. visit the clan temples, if you have seen the other temples in south india these might not be very different or brilliant, but if you are an architect and culture buff then do visit. the hotel provides a list of all the temples nearby
5. visit the near-by villages and walk down the lanes. the hotel might recommend some small-scale industry of snack making, i wasn’t pleased with the hygiene standards, so i wouldn’t recommend a visit.
6. visit karaikudi, have lunch at another heritage property called ‘the bangala’. the food spread is lavish, maybe a tad-bit overpriced but they are extremely nice again and let you laze around for as long as you wish. though do book this in advance… if you are a non-vegetarian there are famous local messes, drop by for an authentic chettinad curry!
for more details about visalam visit: http://www.cghearth.com/visalam